Associate Pastor Chuck Osburn of La Cañada Presbyterian Church has three points he wants to make about the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, he said in a recent phone interview, he doesn’t believe God caused the pandemic. Second, crises such as diseases are nothing new to the history of the Christian church. And third, this is a time for Christians to serve, to “call on people and remind them that God is for them … because we believe that ourselves.”
That final point in particular is something that is echoed by many of La Cañada Flintridge’s church leaders who have voiced a desire to serve a city that, like many, is grappling with the emotional and mental effects of a global pandemic.
And those leaders aren’t just speaking individually. Since 2017, LCF pastors and other church representatives have met a few times a year, when responsibilities and busy schedules allow, often over lunch to talk about their congregations.
They also share ideas for service or discuss social issues. At a recent meeting, for example, church leaders discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and how to provide a voice for those who are not often heard.
And after the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person gatherings unsafe, the group went online, holding their meetings via Zoom. Their conversations turned into brainstorming sessions about how to hold worship services while churches have had to close their doors.
But though churches have been affected by the pandemic, the church leaders know that the members of their community — whether or not they’re part of their congregation — are also affected. In their individual and collective roles, they are grappling with those challenges.
“It’s a fear of an uncertain future,” said the Rev. Kyle Sears, pastor of the La Cañada Congregational Church. “Our community in the past has been able to either predict or weather whatever the future may hold, but now that’s harder to do.”
The gut reaction for many people during a time of suffering, Sears said, is to believe that God has abandoned them. But, “that’s actually where we find the presence of God. The power and the hope of God is that, even in the midst of the suffering, we are able to be loved and to share love with one another, find hope and a sense God’s faithfulness.”
Osburn had a similar thought, adding that he believes that the doubts and uncertainties caused by the pandemic may inspire people to seek support from churches.
“One of the things that this crisis does, is it makes you see that humans are limited and we can’t fix everything all at once,” he explained. “And I think people are open to looking to God in ways they may not [otherwise].”
DISTRICT MEETING SPURS SERVICE
Representatives of LCF churches invite members of the community to get in contact with them if they need emotional and spiritual support. Some of the churches have volunteers who will drop off food and other supplies to residents who need help.
Monsignor Antonio Cacciapuoti, pastor of St. Bede the Venerable, also acknowledged struggles faced by those reeling from the emotional effects of the pandemic from being physically separated from each other. But, he contends, the LCF community has consistently shown its commitment to fellowship, particularly during this pandemic.
“It’s like a war without guns,” he said. “We just have to be able to rely on each other.”
Cacciapuoti was the first to call together several head pastors for a lunch in 2017, finding that many of them shared his desire to connect with each other and serve the community. Over time, the group also began meeting with educational leaders from the local school district, listening to their concerns about the stress overworked students feel.
From those conversations and others with the school district, some churches launched initiatives within their congregations to hold conversations about the meaning of achievement or otherwise supported the district’s “Challenge Success” campaign.
PASTORS SEEK UNITY
But as much as the church leaders emphasize unity among members of the LCF community, part of the purpose of the group is to provide a space for the pastors to support each other.
Churches can sometimes display a bit of territorialism, said Bishop David Gill, who pastors the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he hasn’t seen that take place in LCF. In fact, the churches sometimes promote each other’s events and the church leaders visit each other’s congregations.
“There is a tremendous amount of commonality, assuming we choose to look for it,” Gill said in a phone interview. “I think we are all individually, as congregations, believers, in the sense that [we have] a belief in God, a belief in Jesus Christ, a belief that there is power and merit in following ‘the Gospel,’ whatever that means for each, but there is tremendous value to our communities for doing so.”
Other pastors agree, pointing to Jesus as the unifying factor between LCF’s Christian churches. Other differences, Cacciapuoti said, should not be enough to keep Christians from loving each other, particularly when they are needed as helpers for the greater community.
“Be patient, keep hope alive,” Cacciapuoti said. “God is love; he loves us, and if we take care of one another, love one another, the Lord will not abandon us.”